Smug is not a good look for politicians

It ought to be a brilliant time to launch a new political movement. Pretty much every commentator has spent the last two years highlighting popular dissatisfaction with our politicians, our parties and the system that sustains them. We are supposedly, as a nation, desperate for leadership, for clarity, for politicians who believe in something, have a vision, can articulate what it is and intend to deliver it. Neither Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn ticks these boxes.

But in communications terms The Independent Group of 12 (at the time of writing) disaffected MPs who have left their parties, has got off to a disastrous start. The name is the first issue. As The Independent newspaper found when it tried to launch The Sunday Independent, there are already plenty of independents out there. Indeed, there were eight independent MPs sitting in the House of Commons before TIG was formed. So we have an Independent Group which doesn’t include all of the independents. This only highlights that if you are properly independent you surely can’t be part of a group anyway.

An oxymoronic name is compounded by a lack of policy. Being united by what you don’t like is fine for a protest group, but pointless for a political party. An effective launch would have presented some positive (non-Brexit-related) ambitions. One or two would do, if only to provide a sense of direction. At the moment, TIG looks likes a group of misfits (among their former parties and each other) without a unifying idea in their collective heads. Objecting to anti-Semitism (assuming that they all do) isn’t that idea. Everybody should object to anti-Semitism.

But the worst communications sin of this group is its overbearing smugness. When we provide media training for senior spokespeople we usually want them to be confident, positive, forthright, even bold. It is presentational death to come across as pleased with yourself, superior, smug, self-centered. The public forgives much of its politicians (it has to), but I doubt that voters will treat the Soubry smirk as anything other than poison at the next election.

There is still plenty of room for a new political force at the heart of British life. A NOTA (None Of The Above) party could present a progressive, centrist raft of policies that would put the old guard of British politics to shame. But unless The Independent Group gets its communications act together very quickly indeed, it won’t be them.